I'm a recent college graduate. No one told me it would be this hard to make ends meet.

After the initial excitement of graduation subsided, I was thrown into a whirlwind of job applications and rejections, confronting the harsh realities of budgeting for the first time. The financial independence I had eagerly anticipated now seemed like a distant dream. While I cherished my newfound freedom, I was also faced with the daunting task of managing expenses for necessities such as rent and groceries. My ambition to establish a career in biotechnology was thwarted by the lack of full-time opportunities, forcing me to live from paycheck to paycheck.

Previously, during my college years, I could always count on financial support from family and friends whenever necessary. However, post-graduation, I quickly learned that I was on my own, and the support network I relied on had diminished. Faced with the tough job market, I found myself accepting any available job—including waiting tables, babysitting, and working as a part-time hotel receptionist. With these modest earnings, I had to meticulously plan and prioritize every expense.

There were nights I sat in bed, surrounded by bills and a spreadsheet that stubbornly wouldn't balance, the numbers glaring back at me as a harsh reminder that these odd jobs weren't enough. My income was barely sufficient to cover my monthly needs, leading me to the realization that I needed multiple part-time jobs just to survive.

Despite my best efforts in college and following the supposed road to success, I found myself unable to secure a stable future, which was both puzzling and disheartening. Feeling like a failure and let down by the system, I struggled to come to terms with my situation.

However, I chose to focus on the positives. Managing my finances at a young age taught me crucial life lessons. The challenge of allocating each penny before it even reached my bank account turned saving money into a seemingly impossible yet intriguing endeavor. Through this, I learned the true value of money and gained resilience and wisdom.

A year has passed since my graduation, and while I am still seeking a full-time job and grappling to make ends meet, I remind myself that this is merely a temporary phase in a tough labor market. With patience and continual adaptation to my circumstances, I am learning to navigate life one day at a time.

I am hopeful that, in the future, I will reflect on these difficult times as the foundations of my financial acumen, teaching me not just to survive, but to thrive in adversity.  

Eleven days before I graduated college, university police incited violence on a group of students peacefully protesting the ongoing genocide in Gaza. The situation got so bad that my house, right on the outskirts of campus, became an oasis for protesters as smoke bombs and pepper spray polluted the air.

As I took care of my peers, providing them food, water and a space to check on friends and secure a safe way home, I was filled with anxiety and trepidation. Graduation was drawing near, and accompanied with the canon feelings that come with closing such an important chapter came new feelings of hopelessness and even deeper existential dread. 

I was ashamed to be part of an institution that would sic military-level violence on students, but was the world I was about to enter any better? If anything, what happened at my school is a reflection of our current state.

Leaving academia is daunting – now more than ever

Protesters face police at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge on May 9, 2024.

How does a new college graduate navigate a world of social upheaval, political animosity, economic disparity and mass violence? How do I find hope for the future when all seems lost?

When I first started college, I thought I’d have everything figured out by graduation. I thought my degree, paid in gray hairs and sleepless nights, would grant me clarity through life’s unyielding ambiguity.   

In an attempt to interrogate and possibly subdue these heavy emotions, I began reflecting on my educational journey and the place school has occupied in my life for the past 17 years. Academia always acted as a trellis shielding me from the weight of my many insecurities. Now that this chapter of my life is ending, it feels like a piece of my identity is ending along with it.

I’ve tried to find ways to avoid this reality. I toyed with the idea of grad school, not because it’s something recommended for my field of study, but because it’s hard to fathom not being bound to a collection of letters. I can’t imagine how I’ll navigate my life without the structure and community that school provides. 

The loneliness of post-grad life is daunting. While I still will retain the many relationships I’ve cultivated, the lack of proximity will prove an immutable barrier. The five-minute walks to meet each other will turn to hour-long drives, and soon enough we’ll be too busy with our own lives to reconnect. And this newfound isolation will bring forth painful introspection, making the problems of our world seem even greater

For Gen Z, tainted milestones are our normal

Nevertheless, this isn’t the first time I’ll be entering a new chapter in my life while the world seems to crumble around me.

I started college in August 2020, right at the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic that had already sank its teeth into the last few months of my senior year of high school. That time was full of so much uncertainty. I didn’t even think I would be able to move onto campus, and when I did, I was sure we would be sent home after two weeks.

But we weren’t. If you told me that four years later I would be graduating in person and not on Zoom, I wouldn’t have believed you.

When I walked across the stage last Friday, I felt pride in all I had accomplished, especially in the face of such unprecedented times. I was proud of my academic achievements and those of my peers, I was honored to be in the presence of the professors who guided me along this journey, and I was filled with gratitude for my family with whom I shared this moment.

It’s an immense privilege to be able to graduate while universities in Gaza have been bombed and child victims of global humanitarian crises can’t even dream of getting an education like mine. 

I don’t know how to reconcile with these heavy truths. A time that’s supposed to be filled with excitement and anticipation is marred with hopelessness: From violent crises in Gaza, Sudan and the Congo, to the myriad economic and political issues domestically, I wish the light at the end of this dark tunnel would reveal itself to me.

Instead I’m futilely searching for it. In the face of such difficulty, I won’t allow my despair to consume me. I will continue to do my small part in advocating for those less fortunate than me. I know that will bring me some respite. 

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